Tony voters' short run gets panned by ousted


NEW YORK -- Broadway is bracing for its own version of "The Civil War." A group of high-profile stage producers is close to hiring a legal eagle to fight Broadway's leading trade group over its right to remain Tony Award voters.

Producers David Brown, George W. George, Stephen Wells and actor-producer Tony LoBianco -- who have been ousted as Tony voters -- are among those who plan to take their fight to court and are mulling slapping the League of American Theatres & Producers with an antitrust lawsuit. They could announce their legal team as early as today.

In August, the 500-member League stripped about 125 members of Tony-voting privileges -- which include two free tickets to every show -- because they haven't produced on Broadway in the past four years.

"Broadway is showing an extraordinary disrespect for its own magnificent history," said Wells, who produced "Mail" in 1988.

"It's totally unfair that a small, self-appointed elite inner circle of the league has made all these new rules and killed off all these old members," said LoBianco, who produced and starred in the 1989 one-man show "Hizzoner."

But league board members said giving free tickets to members who haven't been active in years hurts the bottom line.

"The industry has a right to be selective, to say you've got to be active in the theater if you're going to make judgments about it," said Manny Azenberg, a league board member who has produced 60 shows.

But the disenfranchised group says the League is abruptly changing the rules in the middle of the game.

In return, the League is offering the right to remain non-voting "adjunct" members and pay $1,000 in annual dues, the amount Tony-voting members pay.

"Second only to bullfighting, producing plays on Broadway is the most dangerous profession in the world," said George. "Once you're honored, you should remain honored forever."

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